Tony Blair's much-vaunted promise of greater choice in public services such as schools and hospitals is failing to match the reality, a Midland MP has warned.
The cross-party Commons public administration committee, chaired by Cannock MP Tony Wright (Lab), said the best the public could often hope for when they were offered a choice in the provision of services was their second, third or even fourth preference.
In a scathing report, the committee warned it was " unrealistic" to expect schools to expand and contract in response to parental choice.
It said attempts to extend patient choice in the National Health Service, through greater private provision, was likely to be "wasteful" of resources. The safeguards put in place by the Government to prevent "cream-skimming" by private contractors were described as "sketchy and inadequate".
And the committee said that warnings by Ministers of possible hospital closures in response to patient choice raised "serious concerns" about future NHS provision in some areas.
Mr Blair is committed to driving up standards in public services through the extension of choice - a strategy which has reportedly brought him into conflict with Chancellor Gordon Brown.
The committee said the evidence that choice led to improved performance was "scarce and inconclusive" and that the Government should now acknowledge its limitations. Rhetoric does not match the reality.
"Too often the 'choice' label is applied to schemes in which the most the consumer can hope for is second, third or even fourth choice," the report said.
"Secondary schools find it difficult to respond flexibly to the demand generated by parental choice. It is unrealistic to expect schools to expand and contract in the way that is sometimes suggested." The committee said it was " disturbing" that there were still problems with the financial and computer systems which were supposed to be the basis for patient choice in NHS.
It also warned that contracting out to the private sector would inevitably lead to a loss of in-house expertise in the public services.